Investing in jobs

The Southeastern Ohio Port Authority isn’t building its 35,000-square-foot Ingenuity Center to compete with other sites and potential landlords.

Ideally, the new $2.2 million facility will help fill those spaces as well.

“Hopefully, some of the companies that start here will go into some of the privately owned developments,” said Mike Jacoby, the former executive director of the port authority who got the ball rolling on the project nearly six years ago. “It can be a feeder system for private development.”

Jacoby, now executive director of the Zanesville-Muskingum County Port Authority, returned to Washington County Tuesday for a ceremonial groundbreaking for the center, located in the Seven North Commerce Park on Ohio 7 in Reno. Members of the port authority board praised his efforts to start the work that will culminate in the new facility expected to be completed before the end of the year.

“This is a real innovative venture to hopefully attract innovative companies in the tradition of Washington County,” said Terry Tamburini, current executive director of the SEOPA.

The center is being built with federal and state grant funding, plus an $862,500 bridge loan from Peoples Bank to get things started. Once completed, it is expected to create at least 25 jobs as a company or companies locate in it.

“We expect to grow high-paying technological and skilled jobs,” said David Haas, secretary/treasurer for the port authority board.

The commerce park began as a venture between the port authority and Marietta-based Triad Resources. Originally, the plan was to have the port authority receive a portion of the revenue from leasing space on the site. But in 2011, Marietta Truck Sales and Service Inc. purchased the entire park and elected to donate five acres back to the authority to construct the Ingenuity Center.

“Our company will be 80 years old this year, and we always want to preserve everything for the community,” said Rod Rafael, owner of Marietta Truck Sales and Service. “We’re glad this is all coming together.”

The center was originally seen as a potential location for high-tech companies like Cool Containers, Ferrar Scientific, Grimm Scientific and others that spun off from Thermo Fisher Scientific. But while there are some constraints on what can go into the facility, Haas said, potential clients aren’t limited solely to the temperature-controlled container and scientific instrument industry.

Tamburini noted the intense interest in oil and natural gas exploration thanks to new technology allowing access to the deep-underground Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

“They’re looking for buildings, there’s no question,” he said.

The site would be ideal for two companies, said Jim Black, the port authority board member who will be overseeing the project.

“It’s not being built as a warehouse; it’s being built for high-employment industries,” he said.

A facility like the Ingenuity Center can serve companies that are growing but cannot afford to divert resources to a building, Black said. Eventually, they would likely outgrow the Ingenuity Center and move to a privately owned site.

“We’re trying to encourage start-ups or smaller companies that need room to grow or need the opportunity to grow,” Haas said.

The center would also be a source of revenue for the port authority, which could invest the money in other areas, he said.

Construction is expected to begin next week, Black said. There are five contractors on the project, four of whom are local, he said.

Haas noted there have been some challenges and delays in the process, including grant-eligibility issues, and he’s glad to see it moving forward.

The center is expected to be completed before the end of the year. Tamburini said there has been some interest in the facility already and he plans to keep those companies, plus others who he knows may be looking for space, abreast of the progress of the project.